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Western Press Review: Afghanistan's Loya Jirga, European Security, And The U.S. Mideast Peace Plan

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 11 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed by commentators and analysts in the Western media today are the convening of Afghanistan's Loya Jirga grand council meeting, which will choose a new government with a two-year mandate; the India-Pakistan standoff; European security issues; the French right's weekend electoral victory; and the U.S. administration's Mideast peace plan.


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says Afghanistan's Loya Jirga assembly promises to be "an imperfect exercise in the construction of representative government." But of allegations that Afghan warlords are manipulating or unduly influencing the process of choosing the 1,500 Loya Jirga delegates, the paper says many Afghan affairs analysts feel any flaws in this process "are less important than the creation of institutions to reconcile differences peacefully and politically."

But the paper also remarks that curtailing the political influence of warlords would have been more successful if the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had been extended outside of Kabul into the outlying regions of the country. Under the circumstances, the paper says, it is "encouraging" that the ethnic composition of the Loya Jirga delegates sufficiently reflects their proportions of the Afghan population.

But "The Boston Globe" goes on to say that the international community "needs to meet its pledges of financial assistance to Afghanistan. And more of that aid needs to be given directly to the central government, not filtered through foreign nongovernmental organizations with their high overhead costs. Well-meaning outsiders should help Afghans in practical matters such as road building, repair of irrigation systems, refugee resettlement, and the training of police and soldiers. But the foreigners must also abjure arrogance and respect the struggles of the Afghans who are trying to rebuild a country that outsiders helped to destroy."


A editorial in "The New York Times" today notes that U.S. President George W. Bush gave very different public messages during his meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on 8 June and with Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday. To Mubarak, Bush made clear that the U.S. seeks to begin work immediately on the establishment of a Palestinian state; in the company of Israel's Sharon, the U.S. president said there could be no progress on Mideast peace until there is a radical reform of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

The paper says that while Palestinian Authority reforms are "essential," the U.S. must not give in to Sharon's insistence that there can be no negotiations on a Palestinian state until the reforms are in place. "Making them preconditions for negotiations will only feed cynicism among Palestinians who believe that Israeli calls for reform are nothing more than delaying tactics."

The Bush administration is expected to outline a plan for Mideast progress within the next few weeks, which provides for parallel movement toward three main goals: First, improving security to prevent attacks on Israeli civilians; second, rebuilding Palestinian institutions to establish a Palestinian state; and finally, joint Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on all remaining points of contention.

The editorial says the Bush administration must be sure to make clear that "all three processes will move forward at the same time."


A commentary in "The Washington Times" by syndicated columnist Steven Chapman remarks that some observers of current Indian-Pakistani tensions warn that neither side fully grasps the magnitude of the dangers posed by nuclear weapons, that both sides are "trading threats like a couple of angry drunks, seemingly oblivious to the fact that, if they began a war, it could turn into an unprecedented catastrophe for both countries."

But Chapman says while the dangers are grave, both sides know what they are doing. "Neither wants war -- much less Armageddon. But they have serious and bitter differences over critical matters, and each is determined to protect its interests. So each sees something to gain not only from being ready to fight but appearing downright eager to fight."

Chapman continues: "The assumption that it's lunacy for nuclear-armed powers to threaten each other is groundless. During the Cold War, American presidents often found it useful to convey to the Soviets our willingness to go to war. Sometimes that meant taking the risk of a Soviet nuclear strike [and] sometimes it meant threatening to launch a nuclear strike...."

But each time, says Chapman, "the missiles stayed in their silos. The Indians and Pakistanis are doing the same thing, and they're not likely to end up using their nukes either. Nuclear deterrence worked in the Cold War, and it should work in South Asia."


A commentary in the "Financial Times" by staff writer Amity Shlaes looks at the difference between European and American views of global security issues. "Europe has long been waiting for a chance to assert itself as independent from the U.S. on the world stage," she writes. "Now that the Cold War is over, that political opportunity has arrived, and Europe wants to seize it. But it cannot put forward a single strategy for the war on terrorism.... [Instead,] Europeans give vent to a thousand criticisms."

Shlaes observes that the integration of Europe into a single political and economic unit has been the focus of European safety concerns for decades. And, "implicit in this formal and elegant program was the notion that the greatest threat of war to Europe still emanated from Europe itself. If Europe could become a single entity, the threat of war would subside. Europe has placed so much faith in the notion of a united continent as its salvation that it tends to regard threats from abroad as an annoying distraction from its unifying work."

Today, says Shlaes, Europe wants a chance to determine its own destiny. And it may be that it is making a "cold calculation -- that it is not a terrorist target, while the U.S. is." But Europe and America are facing the same threats, says Shlaes. And "it would be a tragedy if it took an attack on their home soil for Europeans to recognize that."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" by Gunther Nonnenmacher looks at the first round of French parliamentary elections held on 9 June, in which center-right parties have taken a clear lead. According to complete results, center-right parties backing conservative President Jacques Chirac won 43.62 percent of the vote. But Nonnenmacher points out that few people actually went to the polls, which shows "the French are growing indifferent to politics." This he attributes to French politicians' preoccupation with themselves and their power games, while seemingly oblivious to the state of the nation.

However, Nonnenmacher also points out that Chirac seems to have realized domestic security is an issue of considerable concern to the French people. He has wisely appointed Jean-Pierre Rafferin as prime minister, who Nonnenmacher describes as a man "responsive to local concerns." Nonnenmacher remarks that "French centralism, which has survived basically intact despite the reforms of the last 20 years, may now be facing a new challenge."

In analyzing the shortcomings and failures of other parties, Nonnenmacher writes, "The main lesson Mr. Chirac and Mr. Raffarin can draw from this election is that it is worth pulling together in a single movement to counter the fragmentation of the rightist parties and to better tap the popular vote."

This, however, will be difficult, as long as France's Constitution is constructed around the office of the president, which dictates that personalities remain far more important than parties.


In light of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's announcement yesterday that an alleged terrorist plot was foiled involving nuclear radiation contained in a "dirty bomb," the "International Herald Tribune's" Joseph Fitchett and Thomas Fuller discuss trans-Atlantic priority differences in dealing with such threats. Fitchett and Fuller say that while Europe is "poorly prepared technologically" to deal with such scenarios, Europe might be better prepared psychologically to cope with the risk of a "catastrophic" assault of this type.

The past experience of several European nations in dealing with terrorism may be leading some to conclude that the biggest danger from an attack might result from public panic rather than from actual physical injury. And Europeans continue to want detailed evidence before crediting alleged plots, partly due to the plethora of warnings and alerts issued by the U.S. since 11 September.

But yesterday's report from the U.S. attorney general "may prod European governments to accelerate their civil defense planning," say the authors. The EU does not yet have a plan in place for cross-border cooperation to cope with decontaminating an area from radioactive fallout or similar crises. European airports also generally do not implement Geiger counters to detect radioactive materials. But the authors say while Europe's borders may still be vulnerable, Europe is "meticulous in keeping tabs on waste from their [nuclear] power plants, which would be the most likely source of enough radioactive material to make a big dirty bomb."


An editorial in France's "Le Monde" questions whether the opening of Afghanistan's Loya Jirga grand council will mark the beginning of the long process of restoring and reconstructing the country, or whether it will achieve just enough to mark the end of the Afghan conflict and allow the U.S. to withdraw its troops. If the U.S. administration uses this as an opportunity to wash its hands of the "Afghan drama," "Le Monde" says the new government that will arise from the council will be "weakened before it has even begun."

The U.S. has not achieved its stated objective of eradicating the last traces of Taliban and Al-Qaeda and arresting their leaders, says the paper. Instead, the U.S. has relied on a strategy of financing local warlords to act as U.S. proxies, rather than of strengthening the central government. And if international aid "continues to be so meagerly apportioned in spite of the promises made, what means will Kabul have to govern and rebuild the destroyed infrastructure?" the paper asks.

Interim administration leader Hamid Karzai, whom the paper says is the "least compromised" candidate for an Afghan leader in the new administration, will need to create a new administration and a national army. This will not be easy, the paper says. But "peace in Afghanistan -- and, as experience has painfully shown, in the region as well as in the rest of the world -- depends on it."


A commentary on EU expansion entitled "The Price of Friendship" runs today in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." The paper says it is obvious that Berlin is situated somewhere "between Paris and Warsaw," indicating that Germany is bound to betray one of the two capitals when making a decision about EU expansion by the end of this year. The crux of the matter lies in reducing Germany's financial commitment to Brussels to win favor with its domestic public, but this is not feasible without either alienating France, with regard to agricultural policies, or failing to comply with Poland's wish to be treated as an equal as far as farmers' subsidies are concerned.

New members will receive only 25 percent of the agriculture subsidies now given to EU members, with gradual increases to be expected over the next several years to bring them into parity. In purely financial terms, this would mean a 20 percent reduction in funds going to the West to provide a fair agriculture deal for the East, says the paper. The trouble is that Paris, the main beneficiary of EU farm subsidies, will try with all its might to hinder Germany's calculations -- which would signify a disgrace for German politicians who have promised something that they are unable to deliver.

The editorial concludes that in spite of the financial burden, the Germans can hardly afford to be the ones to delay European expansion on this issue.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," columnist George Melloan calls the convening of the Loya Jirga assembly in Afghanistan in an effort to restore popular self-rule "the best thing that has happened to [Afghans] in several decades." The international security force has managed to provide the country with "vital humanitarian relief and at least a modicum of security," he writes. "But only Afghans themselves can rebuild their shattered state."

Melloan calls the task ahead "monumental." He says Afghans "will have to rebuild their own polity and they have an able leader in their interim prime minister, Hamid Karzai. But the U.S. alliance can do more than it has. Assuming that the council will ask Mr. Karzai to stay on as prime minister, as is widely expected, outside donors should give high priority to his efforts to establish a national army and police force under his own control." In addition, says Melloan, it should be made clear that warlords "with ambitions for starting up the civil war again" will not be tolerated "if they don't cooperate with the established authorities."

Melloan says that Afghanistan has the potential for economic development and a restoration of the nation's agriculture. But he says the country needs "the security that can only be gained from the reestablishment of political and administrative institutions, backed by well-trained, well-equipped police and military forces."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)